Sunday, December 16, 2012

I don't understand . . . rather I don't agree

The senseless death of 20 children and 6 adults in Connecticut this month has me reeling. Reflecting on my personal experience of a parent's worst fear realized. The physical sensation and memory of that wail that comes from a primal place---before evolution brought our reasoning to manage our emotions. I sat in silence for a long time. It hurt trying to send love to parents and family and strangers in some telepathic crazed intention. Knowing there was nothing I could really do.

Then, I waited for anger. And that didn't come, either, only this intense sadness that others still value un-regulated gun ownership over the lives of children. That somehow a child's death must be tolerated for the sake of the second amendment.

Then questions came in droves, and all answered with "I don't understand."

Why is it easier to buy a gun than it is to get mental health coverage?
Why are we not supposed to talk about gun control in the wake of dead children?
Why should teachers be demonized as greedy pension seekers, rather than those who give their lives protecting them?
How can arming more people, actually de-escalate gun violence?
Why do teachers submit to rigorous criminal background checks, and gun owners do not?
Why do we require training for operating machinery, including a variety of vehicles, and don't insist on training for gun ownership?
How does lax regulation make everyone more free?

Truth is, I do understand the "other side's" answers to these questions. I've read and considered their answers, and the bottom line for me is that I don't agree with their rationalizations.

In particular, I find it troubling that some suggest we should arm school personnel. I don't want a society that expects me to educate teachers in proper gun handling techniques. Teachers and administrators should not add a police cap and holster to the materials they need in educating children. I'm coming to see the NRA as similar to big pharma. They exploit these events to suggest a need for a product. They are developing the market for more members, more gun owners, more more more death . . .

When I entered this profession, it didn't occur to me that I was entering law enforcement or that I was entering combat training. It feels hopeless, what profession is safe? What profession can we focus on serving others? I don't know.

Post Script

Just donated to the Brady Campaign, a group that works for sensible gun laws.

Friday, November 16, 2012

It's Caitlin's death date today.

No words. She's still dead. It still sucks. And yet . . . I still go on. 'Cause what else is there to do.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Not About Me

It's hard to think that it's not about me. Her cancer that is. My dear and best friend's cancer. It's her's. The road, the journey, the chemo, the fear, and the hope, and yet, it's hard not to focus on what I might lose, again. Another close, soul-mate kind of friend who gets the struggles and the joys that make me me is walking a path that serendipitously intersects with my own. The times we've walked together we've shared in big and small life revelations. I suppose it's no different than how it was before, only now the wonder of where her steps may take her is laced with fear. It's about her, supporting and staying positive, making phone calls, sending a meal, a card, a text, a hug, and avoiding the "you shoulds," the "whys," the "god's plan" and the like. It's about her, but it feels like it's about me. She's decided to "choose joy," and has asked me to do the same. I'll try. Though, I feel like defeat, not joy, has chosen me.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Problem with Emissions

It began with noting that Caitlin's tree has no flower buds. The tree had a growth spurt and the trunk it thick and strong, but the flower buds should be there and opening this fall and I see no buds for those flowers. It's been disconcerting.

In reflection, I avoided the cemetery this past summer. Each time I thought I should go, I couldn't make myself. I knew it meant something, but wasn't willing to look inside to find out what. Sometimes coping means avoiding. When it was right, I knew I would go.

I went. Today. I wept as I remembered the day her father and I walked towards the hospital elevator after the "It's time to come" call. I thought that if I didn't get in the elevator at the hospital she wouldn't die. And today I hoped when stopped at the red light that if I didn't see her grave, she wouldn't be dead.

I worried that the angels and frog toys I left at her stone would be gone. Anxious that new dead babies would be there. I arrived and parked. All the baby graves seemed to be swallowed by grass--only the crosses, plastic flowers, and angle statues whispered that beloved children lay in rest there. It seemed a metaphor for my summer absence. I tried to exhale, but choked on my tears.

I sat staring at her stone and absent mindedly picked the grass away blade by blade. I listened to a few of Caitlin's songs on my phone and cleaned the stone from the dirt kicked up by my grass pulling.

Hugging my knees, I sat and rocked myself to the music and closed my eyes trying to recall holding her during her life.  The sun burned through my eyelids with a frightening red glow until I relented and opened them for relief. The breeze refused to cool my hot cheeks and burning tears. And walkers strolled by just feet away seeming oblivious to the grieving mother rocking above the earth, as they ranted their day's troubles. I longed to transform from body to the fine grain of sands the ants had successfully unearthed from the thick grasses. If I were sand, I wouldn't hear thoughtless chatter, and I could sprinkle myself about the sacred rectangle.

I went to the trunk, where I keep several toy frogs and other items to leave at her grave, so that I am prepared for any visit. I attached a new frog toy that makes sounds when you squeeze it--a similar toy she loved when she was alive. That helped. I stood for a while. At last I kissed her stone, and whispered my love.

Then I got in my car and turned the key. Nothing. Then every warning light went flashing, and the car tried to start. Seemed to start. I think it started. With lights flashing I put it into gear, thinking that I was just crazed from the emotionally charged visit. I traveled just a few feet. The emergency brake light was on. But the break wasn't pulled. Every square of the gas gauge was gone, but I'd left with three squares. The lights continued to flash, and I left my foot on the gas until the car refused to move. I shifted to park and sat at the exit of the cemetery, unable to leave.

I waited until the crazy thoughts subsided, and finally called DH. "I'm at the cemetery. The car died. And I can't leave." He arrived 40 minutes later with a couple of gallons of gas. We turned the key. A clean start. The tank was half-full. One indicator light glowed faintly--"So I didn't imagine it," I thought. The light signifying a problem with emissions remained on as I drove cautiously home.

Yes, there's a problem with emissions. I suppose I need to have some work done.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Grief Invited In

I wrote this yesterday for Caitlin's birthday. 

Our daughter, Caitlin Anne, would be 5 today. Absence makes Herself present again with memories of what should be--Sending off an excited 5-year-old ready for numbers, songs, and ABCs to Day 1 Kindergarten fortified with Mama's hugs and kisses, and pink backpack with juice box and Crayola box of 8. 

Today's a day of reflection, of a bereaved mother's imaginings of an alternative universe where her child lives. 

Those who love us wish to take the sorrow away, but Grief is best invited in and Absence best honored with Love's tears.

I spent the day crying, texting and talking with family, and writing an article about nursery rhymes. I experienced another of those common sad, yet comforting ironies.While looking for a particular source, I encountered another scholar who had accessed the source I was looking for. The access date was Caitlin's death date. I interpreted it as a hug from beyond, her way of letting me know she's with me in all I do.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Milestones Blur

At some point in time, I check in with myself. Some milestones blur, you see, and without reflection you can miss them.

This past week, I sang everyday. Drank wine everyday. Walked, swam, and laughed everyday. I listened and told stories everyday.

Unplugged from every technology that requires a plug or battery including my camera, I aimed to be present rather than documenting presence. I participated in life everyday. Woven within this participation of thoughts, words, music, and experiences was my daughter's presence.

My Caitlin, with me always.

In the sound of twigs giving way to my footfalls and calls of loons on the lake, in the trance as my arms roll over each other in the water, in casual and deep conversations, in the peaks of the musical phrases, and in the quiet reflection during fatigue from a hard and glorious day--just before a restful sleep.

And that is a milestone. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

It Spins My Head

DH gave me  a pair of beautiful butterfly earrings in gold and semiprecious stones. He told me, he didn't know why he bought them for me, only that they seemed to reflect my spirit. They were a symbol of a new joyful period in my life. A period characterized by lightness, almost the feeling of weightlessness. I was grateful, I'd emerged from some crappy experiences, took some risks and found myself loved and appreciated by this wonderful man. Butterflies symbolized freedom to light upon love. Amazing.

Fast forward six years to the birth and death of our daughter, Caitlin. Eleven weeks after her death (the same amount of time she lived), I attended a group meeting for parents whose children had died. We sat in a circle, and passed around a stone. I listened with horror as each parent gripped the stone, releasing another death story. "This is my life," was my silent scream. I opened my hands and the stone landed heavy in my hands. It was etched with my symbol of lightness--butterflies. Once a symbol of freedom, butterflies now symbolized the irons of grief. 

I was helpless. I'd like to say I was courageous when I embraced grief, but, truthfully grief captured me, and, I surrendered. Eventually I did aim to "feel how this feels," to open my arms to the experience rather than steal myself from it. Grief became a friend; the one willing to remind me of Caitlin every day. Grief never forgot her name or that I was her mother.

Over the last four years, I also embraced the butterfly's new symbolism. Now, a symbol of my daughter entering new spaces in my life in ways never intended. A symbol of her short life parenting me, rather than the way it's supposed to be--my life spent parenting her.

In this sixth year, I've experienced some sense of comfort and engaged in life in some new ways, and reconnected with friends and family. Sadly during my efforts to reconnect, I discovered I'd lost long term memories of experiences or events with other people. "Remember when we . . . " continues to be frequently met with "No" or "I'm sure that did happen; I don't know." I wonder if the butterfly forgets its life on the ground or the wind the nearly blew its cocoon from a tenuous tether. 

But stasis isn't the nature of a butterfly, and a chance story brought the symbol through another transformation.

While in the library, in a period of productivity with work, I detoured and read some posts on a social networking site. There, a friend reminded me of a pair of butterfly earrings I gave to her daughter for being my flower girl on the happiest day of my life. I still don't remember that I gave that gift. I don't remember buying them and I don't remember giving them. But, it makes sense I would choose a symbol of what the day meant to me to give as a gift. Tears burst at the reminder of the lightness and joy I felt in those days. I gasped, then let them fall as I sat in stoic silence remembering her death. Then, Guilt landed on my heart like that awful stone. How could I be "comfortable"? Working? Experiencing a new kind of lightness? How? When my daughter is dead.

Eventually, I drug my hands back to the keyboard to work. And then, it happened--one of those odd coincidence's that communicates my daughter's presence to me, and sometimes communicates her parenting of me. I was working on an article about children's books, and I clicked on a link to a blog, and found these: 

Felt like a message. Perhaps, a reassuring message of, "It's OK to revisit yourself. To emerge independent. To experience some comfort. To allow the butterflies their flight."

I'm not sure I'm ready for this. I'm not sure I want this. Am I letting go of the grief? If grief doesn't visit, who will help me remember? Will I lose the only motherhood role left to me, that of a bereaved mother?  When people say, "do you have children" will I answer no? This isn't OK with me. But, Caitlin seems to be telling me, it's OK to reclaim some of who I was as "Oddrey" and it's OK to lovingly say "Bye, Bye, Butterflies!"

Odd, this symbol of transformation, transforming. It's spins my head.

Ah, the way we find meaning in this world, confusing.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

I Didn't Know Her

Dear friends of mine recently lost their daughter. She died, she was about my age, and she died.

I saw her mother, an empty shell. I could see where death had ripped her daughter from her body. I saw her father, and saw him play the organ and conduct the choir for his daughter. I didn't wonder "how could he do it?" It made perfect sense; he wouldn't leave the music for someone else to do. That's his daughter, she deserved music selected and made by him. And it's unlikely he did it to "keep busy" as some explained to me. I believe it was to attend to his daughter more deeply. Saying goodbye to your child deserves all your attention. And when he received communion he walked right past me, and I saw where death had broken his shoulders.

I went to the funeral and sat beside her friend, and my friend, and felt her hurt. I tried to connect, but I didn't know what to say to help. In the pew, we sat together and held hands and sang the hymns and said goodbye to her friend and their daughter--this woman my age who died. I didn't know her, but I felt her absence.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Who I've Become . . . so far

My last post brought loving and thoughtful comments. Thank you, friends. And one tacked a question onto an observation, "You say that others don't like who you've become. Do You?"

Wow, that was brilliant. Brought me to a halt. Do I? At first I didn't know. I've been caught up in the struggle, with periods of solace and comfort with storms of sorrow and pools of sadness, that I hadn't thought about whether I did like who I've become.

"Do you?"

No. I mean I don't particularly like this life of mine. It's sad. Lonely. And at times seems hopeless. People don't connect with me so much. I see it in their faces as they bite their tongue and thought bubbles of "odd" seem to appear above their heads. Perhaps who I've become is bad. It's strange to feel that I don't fit in anywhere--that wasn't difficult for the "old me."

"Do you?"

Yes. I mean, I'm relieved that I've become more honest about my emotions. I'm satisfied, when I stick up for a principle I believe in. I'm fed, when a "thank you for you help" sweetens a sour stranger or when considering the other point of view when I've been harmed provides release from hurt. I'm pleased when I refrain from sarcastic comments that injure. I'm grateful for who I've become . . . so far.

"Do you?"

I don't know. What I do know is I'm tired. I'm not done struggling, and I know I'll be fine. Especially, when I visit my own wry "pearls of wisdom" upon myself--"The trick is to enjoy it." Yay, life is difficult and I'm in it!

Works every time.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


I'm spent. Four plus years of this death, of this fight to survive and dare to thrive in the aftermath. What remains is the natural human wish that it were different. Acceptance is a myth, integration is my hope. Still struggling to become the mother Caitlin deserved, but I sense others don't like who I'm becoming. Still judging the decisions I make and silently condemning my attempts to expose an open heart and articulate a reasoned mind. It's isolating and lonely being the mother of a dead child, with lessons learned only from experiencing the beginning and end of parenting within one's own life span. I don't recommend this path to insight. Ah, I wish I could have folded her into myself, and kept her there forever, and protected her from her life of tubes and saved her from death. I'm spent.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Leaving the Table

Around the table, we sit, a bunch of professionals chatting between presentations with our coffees, donuts, and the red-herring-orange slices. And the talk steers at it always does to a "safe" topic--children. I'm pretty good at this and for the most part I'm genuinely interested and sometimes even, I contribute. Yup, me, dead-baby-only mama, I do have some things to say. Sweet 20-something begins by asking each person at the table, "And how many children do you have?" Innocent and naive to assume that each of us has children and that we enjoy the opportunity to count them. So kind of her not to leave anyone out. She began with the 40+ woman on my left, then the seasoned father, and when it came to her, she told us how many children she would have. I was relieved, after all it opened the supportive comments to her about how "it would happen" and "it's OK to wait," and "enjoy your freedom now" followed by chuckles. I thought that we would move on, because I assumed her needs were met. I was wrong. She was still interested in everyone else, belying her generation. She continued around the circle methodically, "And you?" When the older gentleman to my right began his proud personal family census, I found myself quietly leaving the table. 

God, this is never going to stop sucking. Never. Make peace. Grow. And Still, the pain of it prompts me to exclude myself. The awkward never fitting in to anywhere is making me nuts. The impossibility of having some aspect of my life not colored black by death, is distressing.